Carroll Foy asked questions and heard concerns in economic meeting.
RICHMOND-Where can small businesses get help during the pandemic? That was one of the main questions Thursday, as employers talked with Jennifer Carroll Foy.
The former Virginia House of Delegates member and current gubernatorial candidate met with a panel of small business owners. She wanted to know what they needed for companies to survive and thrive, post-pandemic. Small business owners, especially women and minorities, said they felt mostly overlooked and unsupported by state and federal relief programs. Carroll Foy said she wants to change that.
“Something that’s really important to me is that we use this crisis as an opportunity to build back our economy, but an economy that is rooted in equity,” Carroll Foy said. “That way, we do not leave marginalized businesses behind.”
The best way to address a problem is to speak with people directly, Carroll Foy said. That’s why she reached out to Ernisha Hall and Tracey Hall, co-founders of Virginia Black Business Directory (VABBD). VABBD serves as a networking organization devoted to connecting Black-owned businesses with consumers through a variety of outreach programs.
Through the VABBD, Carroll Foy found Black business owners from across the state who were willing to meet. They gathered on Zoom Thursday, sharing what issues concerned them and their industries the most. Among them were entertainers, consultants, marketing professionals and nonprofit community organizers.
Where Can Owners Find Relief?
One of the biggest issues business owners presented Carroll Foy with was a lack of transparency and information from state and local governments about what relief options are available for struggling small businesses. This is also where Carroll Foy said she saw more opportunity to assist. The state, she said, can do a lot of things to let business owners know of relief programs.
Robert Brencore Smoot is the CEO of BRENCORE Entertainment in Northern Virginia. Like other entertainment companies, the COVID-19 pandemic put him out of work. He’s had to apply for loans and grants to get by. While Smoot received some of them, he still felt like they were difficult to find and access.
“I don’t think there’s reaching out to our community,” said Smoot. “The big boys with the connections get the money, and that’s real.”
Anthony Otaigbe, founder of Otaigbe & Olumese CPAs, echoed those concerns. He said there’s just been an overall lack of information given to small business owners about possible relief. Otaigbe said some clients missed out on certain stimulus packaging because of a lack of information.
“A lot of people hear about the PPE loan or the economic injury & disaster relief,” Otaigbe said. “But did you know there’s a state program and there might be local programs? It all just comes down to just having that information.”
Otaigbe said that at the local level, small businesses struggled to find the information. It wasn’t advertised well unless you had an accountant or banker or were part of a chamber of commerce. Business owners had to search out information on their own if they wanted to know what resources were available to them.
People in marginalized communities that can’t find relief are more likely to find themselves without housing. Antione Hines is the president and CEO of Veterans HomeFronts, a nonprofit that helps find housing and other resources for the homeless veteran population in Virginia.
Hines said that for years, he has been working closely with legislators at the state and local level to combat homelessness in the state. A lack of consistency between state and local levels have damaged those connections in recent times. That’s one thing he wants to fix.
Hines also wants more funding support for street outreach. As of now, only one of the seven cities Veterans HomeFronts supports has funded street outreach, and that is Virginia Beach. According to Hines, street outreach is the most effective way to assist those in need, as they will be connected with someone who has personal experience with their situation.
Hines also encouraged politicians like Carroll Foy to volunteer and participate, so they can see the work that is being done for themselves.
“Work in those shelters definitely is needed,” Hines said. “That’s truly where the state and the local can work together.”
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Carroll Foy Sees Economic Equity as Critical
None of these issues can have long-lasting solutions without economic equity. Carroll Foy told the panel that she felt economic equity was critical for long-term success. She quoted Martin Luther King Jr. about not getting equity if you can’t afford it.
“Really it’s the paycheck that’s all the difference,” Carroll Foy said. “It’s causing the generational cycle of poverty that we all get stuck in.”
Carroll Foy outlined several ways she hopes to find equity. That includes funding the Rebuild Virginia economic grant, expanding the angel tax credit to beyond just tech start-ups and expanding broadband access to rural and southwest Virginia. She also wants to make community college free for middle and low income students that are studying specific fields such as nursing or early childhood education.
“I have a plan to build a successful post-Covid economy and I’m ready to bring jobs back to Virginia and put Virginians back to work,” Carroll Foy said.
A More Effective Vaccine Solution
But no economic recovery can’t begin without getting past the COVID-19 pandemic. The only way for that to happen is by mass vaccination, Carroll Foy said.
“Mass vaccinations will help consumers gain confidence in meeting with friends and eating out and going to the shops,” Carroll Foy said. “And that will do more to help small businesses right now.”
As of now, Virginia ranks among the lowest states for vaccine rollout. Carroll Foy hopes a mixture of legislation and proper education on the vaccine will help improve Virginia’s ranking.
She gave HB 2333 as an example. Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico) introduced the bill this session. It mandates racial and ethnicity reporting for vaccines, to guarantee fair distribution. The bill also expands who can administer vaccines. It passed the House of Delegates earlier this week in an unanimous vote. The Senate will vote on it within the next few days.
“Without the successful roll-out of vaccinations, people won’t have that confidence to help drive our economy,” Carroll Foy said. “We can always do better and do more.”
Julia Raimondi is a freelance reporter for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected].